Environmental Catastrophe: Either Social Collapse or Socialism

The UN Conference on climate change, known as COP 21, which starts in Paris on November 29 is supposed to agree a legally binding treaty on limiting emissions of Green-House Gases (GHG). The main GHG is carbon dioxide, CO2. The intention is to limit the average global temperature rise this century to 2oC above pre-industrial levels. This 2oC rise is the threshold beyond which global warming becomes self-sustaining and spirals out of human control. 195 countries are taking part and have all submitted proposals for reductions in their emissions, but proposals qualified with conditions. One of the key conditions, which will be in dispute, is that the core capitalist countries subsidise the developing countries to cut emissions. A minimum annual grant of $100bn has been proposed. However, even if all the proposed cuts are implemented, scientists calculate that 56.7 billion tonnes of additional CO2 will be released into the atmosphere by 2030. The UN International Panel for Climate Change calculates that no more than 10 billion tonnes of additional CO2 can be released by 2030 if the 2oC temperature rise is to be achieved. In other words even on the most optimistic assumptions we will exceed allowable emissions by a factor of more than 5! In addition the US has torpedoed the prospect of a legally binding treaty. Secretary of state, Kerry, announced 3 weeks before the conference opened that:

“There is definitely not going to be a treaty”

This will make any agreement voluntary without any sanction for non-compliance. 25 years of voluntary agreements have achieved precisely nothing. The only legally binding treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was sabotaged by the US refusing to ratify it, and by Canada withdrawing to develop its highly polluting oil sands, so this too achieved nothing. The Paris meeting is likely to be more hot air, mutual back-slapping and congratulations all round, but in effect agreeing to “carry on polluting as usual.” And it is not only the atmosphere which is being degraded by capitalism it’s the whole planet’s eco-system!

1.25 planet earths required by capitalism

Mankind’s interaction with nature has become so destructive that now we annually consume 25% more of the earth’s renewable resources than nature can replace. This has become so unsustainable that in a few generations the planet may not be able to sustain human life at all! The degradation of forests, desertification, pollution of aquifers, lowering of water tables, decline of soil fertility, destruction of marine habitats, extinction of species, poisoning of pollinators by insecticides, are just a few of the effects of capitalism on the global ecosystem. This destruction is not being reined back it is accelerating. The result of all this is going to spell catastrophe for future generations. Rising sea levels, loss of arable land, collapse of fisheries, famine, mass migration and, of course, war.

What have the future generations *ever done for us?*

Despite all the talk about green capitalism the key issue with energy production is cost and the cheapest energy is still from fossil fuels. Capitalism’s priorities can be seen in the state subsidies given to fossil fuels which dwarf those given to renewables. The Global Commission on Economy and Climate calculate that the direct subsidies given to fossil fuels amounted to $550 bn in 2014. Once the subsidies to consumers are added in the total subsidy is $5.3 trillion, or 6.5% of global GDP, according to the IMF. Direct subsidies for renewable energy amounted to only $101bn in 2014. Further drilling and fracking for oil and gas all over the planet including the Arctic, which the melting of the polar ice has now made possible, is underway. These subsidies are reflected in past increased production. Between 1997 and 2014 coal production increased from 4.5 bn tonnes to 8 bn and oil from 75 million barrels per day to 93 mb/d, increases of 78% and 24% respectively. These subsidies mean more fossil fuels will be burned and more CO2 will pollute the atmosphere and more global warming will occur. Capital has no concern for future generations! Why are we doing the exact opposite of what any rational person would do?

Profit, growth, capital accumulation

Capitalism engages in production to produce profit. This is the primary motive and the satisfaction of human needs is secondary to this. Because of the internal workings of the system there is a need for continual growth. Capitalism must grow or die. Our rulers are not in control of the system, they only respond to its demand for cheap raw materials and any means of keeping monetary costs down and profits up. This is the real reason why 25 years of climate conferences have failed to halt the destruction of the planet. Our rulers measure their success by economic growth rates. Yet it is obvious, to even the stupidest bourgeois, that continual growth is incompatible with finite resources and a finite planet. At present global growth is approximately 3% annually which means the size of the global economy will double every 25 years. This means CO2 emissions will double, and the pressure on the planet’s ecosystems will double! What needs to be faced fair and square is that the forces driving us to ruin are generated by the workings of capitalism itself. They do not arise from stupidity or immorality of the capitalists. The only way to halt the trashing of the planet is to end the capitalist system of production. Yet it is precisely this which the environmental warriors deny. They think the trashing of the planet can be reversed while capitalism remains in place. This is a complete illusion. The environmentalists are fighting the symptoms not the causes of environmental disaster.

A communist planet

The entire system of capitalist production needs to be ended before we can have any hope of reversing the dreadful damage capitalism has inflicted on the planet. The production for profit, and the system of wage labour which supports it, need to be replaced with social production. The productive forces need to become social property and production needs to be for the satisfaction of human needs. The mass of humanity needs to participate in the planning and running of such a society. Such a society will be able to plan for humanity’s future and roll back the ecological disasters inflicted by 250 years of capitalism. The watchword for such a society will be:

“From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.”

We call such a society communism though this has no relation to the state capitalist societies of Russia and China which were falsely called communist. To create a communist planet requires a political assault on capitalism itself which can only succeed if fought for by the global working class. Such a society needs to be fought for now. All attempts to reform capitalism and make our rulers see the error of their ways are a waste of effort. The choice today is engaging in this fight for a communist planet or seeing the ruin of civilisation.

CWO 11/2015

For a more detailed discussion of this issue see leftcom.org

Saturday, November 28, 2015


To have any hope of ending the capitalist system, workers need to know what the likely results of revolution would be. It is standard doctrine, so far, to claim that it is too early for planning. I reject that argument, just as it would have been senseless to have got rid of steam engines before diesel trains were made available to replace them. In order to persuade millions of workers that it would actually be a good idea, as well as a necessity, to change to a communist economy, there needs to be not just a Plan A for the organising of revolution, but Plan B for the immediately subsequent organised running of the new economy (will there be bread in the 'shops' etc) and then Plan C , D, E etc for the development of what by then will have taken place. Who will be responsible for making such plans, for which work must start immediately ? Leaders of all Marxist organisations, without exception, must communicate with each other and agree to form planning commissions for each national and local area. All this wll be made known to the general public. Great expectations will be generated, with hopes and intentions welded together, for humanity to advance from capitalist chaos to popular rational order, planned and welcomed, moving on from dreams by science.

To have any hope of ending the capitalist system, workers first have to identify it for what it is. A ghastly system of exploitation which sucks the life blood out of not just workers but out of all life on the planet and the planet itself! Workers have to see it for what it is, and start to loathe and detest it for what it is, and start to realise that it can't be reformed any more (who wants the bloody system anyway, reformed or not?) and then we have to start to realise once again that we have to fight it. Fight it together. Not fight it in the deliberately fake and stupid bourgeois way through the unions, or phoney ballot boxes, but fight it together as workers working together against the at last identified and very system which screws us and everyone else, and which is currently fumbling its gormless way towards more and more destructive wars, and will finally destroy us all if left to its own and the moronic bourgeoisie's own selfish and brainless devices!

Yes. It would have been stupid to get rid of steam before diesel was available. But the alternative to capitalism has been available since around the beginnings of the 20th. century. The First World War signalled the beginning of the long slow demise of capitalism. Revolutionary workers might have started disposing of it after that war, if only they'd had an International Communist Party available to assist and advise at that time. But history was against us. And maybe we didn't have sufficient class consciousness at that time anyway?

And we won't just change to a communist economy anyway, like you change your vest. You T 34 sound a bit like Hillary Benn. For Socialism isn't an alternative and tarted up version of capitalism. It's something completely new and different. A completely different concept of organising a good and satisfying life for everyone alive; without money, without wages, without commodities and without ideology, which will have been ousted by class consciousness. A new way of thinking.

We don't know in advance what exactly it'll be like, because we're going to work this out together, through our world workers' councils, but it'll be a living growing development taking place as we do it. Not the fruit of a pre-ordained master plan. Crippling and stultifying everybody in advance. But something we work at together all over the planet. Something that we think up and develop now together as a class through our class consciousness which enables us to use our intellectual and physical abilities as a class fully, for the first time in history.

This sudden unleashing of our full human capabilities - imprisoned for much too long in the vicious and castrating chains of class societies with their inevitable constraints and limitations - will release a force and a potential such as we are incapable of grasping now from our deliberately confined and imprisoned view in an exploiting repressive system.

Great expectations will not onlybe generated, as in the 19th. Century when communism could only be dreamed about, but will start to be transformed into a reality, shocking and even frightening in it's amazing possibilities for happiness and good.

Responding to Charlie's comments of 2015-12-07 02:58, there are several problems with your views. Socialism is generally regarded as preceding and different from communism. It is likely that if ever society runs without using money, it will only be in circumstances as per full communism. To get there, yes, is not matter just likened to changing your vest, as you put it, but requires stages of counter-capitalist socialism, which will probably still use money, even though the very existence of money is a major feature of capitalism, which, again, won't be divested of in one fell swoop. As for planning (quoting you:) "crippling and stultifying everybody in advance", surely that is contrary to the very idea of socialist then communist economies largely requiring and largely resulting from planning. To dismiss planning as just being (quote:) "pre-ordained" doesn't make much sense in general, either, but of course it would depend upon which class makes the plans, both initially and then subsquently. There isn't going to be a hey-presto leap from the status quo based on (quote) "something that we think up", whatever you prefer. You cling to the notion of "world workers councils", but the ICT rejects all the existing Marxist-Leninist parties and all the Trotskyist organisations, so you seem to reckon that all workers not in any of those, with some extent of class consciouness, will just have to go it alone. In that case, progress will take a lot longer ! Workers of all lands unite !

For Marx and Engels socialism and communism are exactly the same thing. It was Lenin in the State and Revolution who blurred the distinction and made the notion of a period of transition into a rigid "stage". All reformists since have taken consolation from this to actually draw up capitalist blueprints for the period of transition (which I think Marx saw as a continuum not a stage). We do not know what we will be able to accomplish as a class en route or how fast we can do it BUT our plan has to include ways in which we will go about abolishing the law of value. As the last revolutionary wave demonstrates this involves advocating the abolition of money as soon as we can. For the rest Charlie I am sure can answer for himself better than I can.

Constantly referring back to eminent theoreticians and then assuming that their views fully apply to current and future circumstances risks abandoning materialism for the sake of ideological consistency. Experiences gained and won by the working class have already shown that widespread starvation and homelessness has been substantially reduced in Russia by means of the application of combined struggles against parasites, struggles led and directed by their own communists party. Abolution of money was not on the immediate agenda and by now, 2015, is not, so far, sought by other than the few supporters of the so-called 'communist left'. The masses of the world proletariat will always have practical aspirations and concerns, rather than ideological ones, unless it can be clearly shown that the latter will advance what is required, soon rather than ultimately.

Briefly responding again to Charlie's comment of 2015-12-07, whereas he likened me to Hillary Benn, for any reasons of which I am not clear, it occurred to me that for those who watch 'Dad's Army', it is tempting to compare some ultra communist left inclinations to the mannerisms of Sergeant Wilson, if that would be all right with you, if you don't mind, in contrast with tightly disclipined organisation as needed by communists wherever they have been and are and intend to be effective.

It would be useful if you would clarify precisely what your generalisations refere to since in gernal there is much we could agree on. Marx has been dead since 1883 and has said nothing new since was one of our old jokes but at the same time we don't have to re-invent the wheel when we have insights that they have already given us (indeed it would be the height of arrogance to assume that we knew best). And you are right. We begin from "real premises" like Marx. he did not begin by stating an abstraction and then try to twist reality into his particular ideological framework (there are other left communists who do this but we have always criticised it as a method). And do some research before you pontificate about the Russian Revolution. The first thing that happened was the collapse of money and the Communist Party had no policy for dealing with it but adopted War Communism (which was flying by the seat of your pants when faced with a new civil war). Barter and rationing replaced monetary exchange until 1921 but we cannot use it as a model since it was an emergency situation. However it does give the lie to assertions about what can and cannot be achieved in the future (for which we prefer to deal with when we get there). You can be Captain Mainwaring with your grandiose schemes for forming a world party when the class cosnciousness which would be its basis is almost totally absent, At least Sergeant Wilson had a grip on reality!

Well, I've noted what you said, but won't non-oblige you and really don't want to squander any more time on recurrent theoretical interaction. It's nearly time for laundry, sandwich, then East Enders. Time flies. Look after your feet !

Well I'm so old I can't even remember the names of the characters in Dads Army - is it being replayed? But on the question of looking after your feet...mine are done for, as are my knees, hips, neck, hands, shoulders and pelvis. So no laundry. No sandwich, unless somebody else makes one, But thank the deity I'm spared East Enders. Time has fled! Over and out.

Charlie, keep your pecker up ! The advice on looking after feet was one of two lessons said to come from Auschwitz, the other one, that the first chance is the best. You might know of the group of amazingly brave women prisoners there who smuggled explosives to prisoners in the sondercommando, who used them blow up crematorium 4 of the five in October 1944. They were hanged in pairs in January 1945, but Roza Robota shouted out "Hazak vematz!" (Be strong and brave !") to the other prisoners before she was hanged. That advice can keep a bloke or woman going, whatever the problems, so I hope that it will help you too. I guess you are brave, anyway, with all that you have to contend with. A survivor and good friend of mine once said to me, "Boy are you lucky?!" I still agree that I am, despite a twisted spine, prostate problem, looming hernia and so on. I love Gypsy music and that helps to keep me going mentally, too. All the best. Sorry for all seeming or real confusions ! David. 9-12-2015.